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Pretty Good Hat

Getting out my Headphones

One of the simple but non-obvious (to me) things about a system like GTD is the exhortation that complex intellectual work can be organized into physical actions.

Now there are all kinds of reasons why lots of the work I and others do is hard to organize that way, but being conscious of physical actions as a unit of analysis has helped me do one thing much better and much more frequently: listening to music.

Here’s the thing: in an office I can’t turn on a tune until I get my headphones out. I have spent entire days occasionally thinking to myself “I’d like to listen to something,” but my headphones are over in my briefcase.

Seriously, that’s like two or three feet away sometimes. But it’s enough to prevent me from catching up with a podcast or playing an album that would be just right for an afternoon of cranking out work, that little bit of distance and distraction.

This may be a profound mental defect, that I cannot maintain a chain of thought long enough to pivot left, get a headset out of a bag, plug it in, launch rdio or instacast, find the playlist, press play, and return to work. Yet there is it, and when broken down like that I can see how that chain of action is actually relatively sophisticated. It involves several decisions: Podcast or music? Which show? Or which genre? Which artist, album, or playlist?

So let’s shorten that chain just a bit: Now when I get to the office, the first thing I do is get out the headphones and plug them in. I’m listening to a ton more than I did before – and importantly, I’m enjoying it.

In the same spirit, I’m doing something to help me do more reading, by keeping better lists of books I want to read, and then keeping one or more of those books nearby – on Kindle app or the countertop – which I have found makes it far more likely that I will pick it up and read it when I have a few free minutes.

I am aware that this is all basically a dramatically unjust oversimplification of behavioral economics' finding that pre-slicing apples increases the likelihood of actually eating them at lunch. But this brings me back to where I started, which was a lot of recent reconsidering of key elements of GTD. This notion of small pre-requisites for accomplishing something complex or ambitious makes sense to me the past few weeks in a way that it did not previously – this resonance has proven to be valuable and I expect to continue to find new ways to take advantage of it.